As I’m writing this piece, it’s Sept. 1st: the first official day of school for Rutgers students. For me, as well as thousands of other students, it’s a pretty exciting day! It’s the first time I’ve ever been on campus, taking physical college classes and experiencing more of a college student’s lifestyle.
Already, I’ve experienced some pretty “grown-up” experiences, like living with people who aren’t related to me and going out for food of my own choice, getting lost and having to rely on a map, and having to make my breakfast with a butter knife because I might have forgotten some pretty important basics at home.
It has been a mixed bag, to say the least. But I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak to some really great people, face-to-face, and walk around a new town that I officially feel like I can call "home" now.
In many ways, there's a much greater connection to having the identity of a college student when you feel like you’re actually on a college campus rather than on a screen in a virtual environment.
At the same time, among that joy and zeal, it’s also pretty nerve-wracking to be here. For one, there's still a pandemic-causing virus spreading around and this is the most crowded place I’ve been in a very long time. But more notably, I’m kind of out of practice when it comes to interacting with people.
Looking back into a very recent past, it astounds me that I adjusted to just looking at the top halves of people and interacting with them solely over discussion boards and GroupMe chats, and honestly, I feel a little weird to not be doing that anymore. I definitely feel in that sense that virtual schooling has left me with a bit of an identity and social crisis in terms of interacting with a physical classroom and the rules of engagement.
Right now, my brain keeps looking around, asking a mix of questions like, “Is that a great person to get to know?” and “How do I actually make friends again?” and “How exactly did I make friends in high school, and can I do that here?"
I've yet to find an actual answer to any of those, but those questions did unlock a follow-up series of doubts and worries: "Will I get those great friendships and memories that my parents and other alumni have so eagerly told me about, or will I be a loner?”
Additionally, I get worried that relying on my historical tools to make friends will revert me back to a past version of myself, which disappeared over the pandemic (for the better). But after giving it some thought, I realized that my anxieties stem from a lack of confidence, which is something I hope I to overcome during my time at Rutgers.
A lack of confidence in others and the stories that my “Rutgers elders” have told me are things that I know hold me back from fully committing to a social life or meeting people. A lack of confidence in myself contributes to my fears that I’m going to end up alone in a campus of thousands of diverse identities that I might actually match with.
A lack of confidence in my ability to grow and change contributes to the fear I have about losing the current version of myself to the past. And while I can definitely try to “fake it until I make it,” as people commonly advise me to do, I’d rather actually make it as I get to experience the independence, the mistakes, the joys and victories of being a “real” college student for the first time.